UFC 200 has grown so big that a single fight card can’t contain it.
The world’s dominant mixed-martial arts promotion is throwing an anniversary party for itself in Las Vegas, Nev., staging several days of events collectively dubbed International Fight Week. The UFC is putting on shows on three consecutive nights, along with innumerable accompanying fan activities and entertainments, including everything from a massive fan expo to a 5K run.
It all culminates Saturday night in UFC 200, which has one of the most stacked fight cards in the promotion’s history.
Sure, it’s not technically the UFC’s 200th actual pay-per-view show, since it has been forced to cancel two numbered events. But with a recent run of success inside and outside the cage, along with widespread rumors of the entire promotion’s impending sale for multiple billions, the UFC brass clearly feels the numerical milestone is a great time to celebrate.
“It’s pretty cool to be involved in something like this,” said Jon “Bones” Jones, who fights out of Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA. His rematch with Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight title caps the entire week.
“You know it’s a historic week for the UFC,” Jones said, “and they’ve come a long way to get to this point.”
The UFC did a similarly supersized week of three consecutive fight cards in December, and all three shows drew sizable crowds in the UFC’s hometown. They’re going even bigger this time, scheduling the first two shows at the MGM Grand Garden Arena before moving across the Strip on Saturday to the sparkling-new T-Mobile Arena, the home of Las Vegas’ expansion NHL franchise.
Here are five things to know heading into the big week:
TITLE FIGHTS EVERY NIGHT: A belt will be won on each of the three shows, culminating in three title fights Saturday. Lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos’ defense against Eddie Alvarez headlines Thursday’s card, while strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes on Claudia Gadelha atop Friday’s show. The three championship fights at UFC 200 are Jose Aldo’s interim featherweight title fight with Frankie Edgar, bantamweight champion Miesha Tate’s defense against Amanda Nunes, and Jones’ second meeting with Cormier.
EVERYONE’S A STAR: UFC 200 alone features nine fighters who have held a championship belt during their careers. Former heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez, former bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw and former welterweight champ Johny Hendricks are all in difficult bouts. The card includes former title contenders Cat Zingano, Mark Hunt and Diego Sanchez, along with some of the most crowd-pleasing fighters in UFC history, including Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller.
BIG BAD BROCK: Along with the legitimate competitive reasons to buy UFC 200, there’s also the biggest spectacle in MMA: Brock Lesnar, the former heavyweight champ and current professional wrestler. Nearly five years after his last fight, and a year after saying he was done with MMA, the UFC 100 headliner returns to the cage to fight knockout artist Hunt. Lesnar will get a big payday for taking the enormous risk, and the UFC will get another boost from the biggest pay-per-view draw in the sport’s history.
CONOR AND NATE II: Conor McGregor’s rematch with Nate Diaz isn’t on the UFC 200 card, thanks to McGregor’s brief scrap with the UFC over money and promotional responsibilities earlier this year. But the charismatic Irishman and his Californian conqueror will make their presence felt at International Fight Week. They’re scheduled for a news conference Thursday to promote their meeting at UFC 202 on Aug. 20. It will feel more like a fight: The promotion is holding the event at T-Mobile Arena, and it’s open to the public.
GRAND FINALE: The festivities all come down to Jones’ second meeting with Cormier. A victory would be redemption for Jones (22-1), widely considered the world’s top pound-for-pound MMA fighter. He had his 205-pound title stripped last year and was suspended after his involvement in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, but he returned earlier this year. Cormier (17-1) has never lost to anyone but Jones, but he was outclassed in their first meeting.